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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Inslee puts proposed water quality rules on hold


OLYMPIA – A major rewrite of the state's clean water rules was put on hold Friday as Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the Department of Ecology to “reassess” the plan he proposed last year because some elements did not pass the Legislature.

The department will decide whether to make changes to the proposed rules, which include new standards designed to protect people who eat fish and other seafood that may live in contaminated waters.

The updated clean water rules eventually must be submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If the state doesn't update its rules, the EPA could impose its own set of  standards.

“The lack of legislative action is disappointing and forces us to reassess our approach,” Inslee said in a press release announcing the change.

Last year Inslee called for new standards on a series of toxic pollutants that can be found in the state's waterways. Among the proposed rules was a revision of the fish consumption standards, which measure the health risks of eating fish, shellfish or other food from rivers, streams, lakes or bays.

The old standards are based on a diet that involves far less fish than many Native American tribes consume. Inslee proposed increasing the amount of fish the standard assumes a person eats – from roughly one serving a month to one a day – but also dropped the acceptable cancer risk from one case per million to one case per 100,000. If the new formula resulted in a weaker standard, however, the state would keep the current one.

The rules drafted by the Ecology Department deal with “point-source” pollution, which comes from large, identifiable sources like municipal waste treatment plants or manufacturers. Inslee also proposed legislation to deal with “nonpoint-source” pollution, such as chemicals commonly found in household goods, automobile products and paints. It passed the House but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.

The department could decide its point-source rules can stand on their own, or it could propose additional rules. “We expect to decide how we move forward in weeks, not months,” Sandi Peck, a department spokeswoman, said.

The EPA is also developing its own set of updated clean water rules that could be imposed if Washington doesn’t come up with its own, Mark MacIntyre, an EPA spokesman said. The agency expects to have its rules ready by fall, but “but will pause that work to review and act upon a state submittal, should we receive one,” he said.




Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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